Stimulus money puts teachers in layoff limbo
Funds trickle out, leaving many state and local education budgets in flux.
(Page 3 of 3)
Hundreds of people showed up for a recent board meeting in Gilbert, including teachers, students, and parents pleading to save teachers' jobs. "There were tears, both in the audience and from the board members. I have never seen a meeting that was full of that much emotion," Mr. Stump says. But in the end, the board was unified on budget cuts and teacher layoffs. "Everybody understands that there is an economic crisis," he says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Setting budgets based on the worst-case scenario is one way for districts to protect themselves if revenues continue to decline, but it's "a scary thing," says Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an education coalition in Washington. "Once you lay off teachers, they may not be available if you want them in the coming months."
For Andre Ravenelle, superintendent of the Fitchburg, Mass., public schools, federal money for low-income and special-education students is a major boost. But it just doesn't seem wise to count on the other portion of the stimulus – about $500,000 that his district has been told it will receive through state stabilization funds. "Either the state or the town could reduce our budget accordingly," he says.
Through a consolidation of middle schools and other cuts, he expects to reduce the district's staff by about 20 positions. To ensure that some teachers are available for rehire as jobs open up over the next few years, he hopes to create full-time substitute positions – an idea that came up in conversation with other education leaders in the state who are searching for ways to use the stimulus money without falling off a funding cliff when it disappears in two years.
The debate over how to use the state stabilization funds has been most pronounced in South Carolina, where Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has argued that the money should be used to pay down state debt. A high school senior filed a lawsuit last Thursday trying to force open the way for the legislature to spend the money on schools without the governor's approval.
"There is definitely concern that [the stimulus money] will get diffused and diluted by other political pressures within states," Mr. Kealy says.
To keep up pressure to use the money to truly improve schools, the Coalition for Student Achievement was launched last week by more than 30 education, civil rights, business, and philanthropic groups in the US.
"It's awfully hard, when you're trying to keep teachers in the classroom and school buses running, to be thinking about, 'How do I bring real reform?' But ... the public doesn't expect business as usual in any aspect of the economy," said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a member of the coalition, in a conference call with reporters last week. "No one should think that coming out of the economic crisis with the same educational outcomes is a success."